This is the seventh in a series on My Faith Journey.
I was nineteen years old and a sophomore at Clemson University in the spring of 1975. As the President of The Fellowship of Christian Athletes during my four years there, one of the things I did regularly was speak at churches on Sundays. It was great fun. I had been inspired by various football players at Alabama who did the same thing when I was growing up and it was an opportunity to give back.
One weeknight I had the opportunity to talk to a “youth rally” of high school students from several churches in Greenville, SC. At the end of the service, a young man in his 20’s by the name of Ben Wham came up to me and told me how much he enjoyed it and added, “Would you be interested in a summer job as our youth director?”
I was surprised and flattered. The church was close enough to Clemson so that I could work out with some of my football teammates throughout the summer. “Yes, I would be glad to talk to you more about it,” I heard myself say without hesitating. It wasn’t long before I met Don Collins, the new pastor at Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church. Don was a gentle, loving man who assured me that being a Baptist wasn’t a problem for him, and that maybe we could learn something from one another.
I had never been in a Presbyterian Church until the summer I worked in one. I discovered that I loved working in a church as much as I loved playing football. We had weekly programs for children and youth. We went on an awesome beach retreat and much more. It was the beginning of my calling into ministry though I wouldn’t know that for another year.
Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church introduced this Baptist boy to a liturgical style of worship. “The Lord be with you,” Don would say at the beginning of worship, and the congregation responded in unison “And also with you.” I learned to say the Nicene Creed for the first time and we said The Lord’s Prayer together each week in worship. I was intrigued by a new form of church government with a “Session” which is similar to Baptist Deacons or an Episcopal Vestry.
But I also experienced that Presbyterians loved God and one another as much as Baptists did. That sounds silly now but it was news to me at the time. This was an important internal shift for me.
I thank God for Don Collins, Ben and Dora Wham, Glenn Garrett, and many other friends for influencing my faith journey. Love is the language of faith, no matter what tongue speaks it.
Thirty-five years later I stand in an Episcopal congregation, and I hear my pastor, Bob, say, “Peace be with you,” and we say, “And also with you.” And the familiar liturgy, prayers, and style of worship of so many years ago remind me that God’s family is bigger than I can imagine.
This Sunday I will close my eyes in worship and thank God for the people of Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, and for their contribution to my faith journey.
What about you? What or who has broadened your understanding of God in your faith journey?
In the meantime, peace be with you.